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Guide to The Alfred Olcott Hudson River Steamboats Collection
Ca. 1871-1951 (bulk 1905-1930)
 PR 98

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Emily Wolff

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on December 13, 2011
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Alfred Van Santvoord Olcott was born in 1886, to a family that had been operating steamboats on the Hudson River for three generations. His great-grandfather started an excursion business on the Hudson in 1835. In 1861 his grandfather, Commodore Alfred Van Santvoord, converted the river excursion business into a steamboat line that would be come know as the Hudson River Day Line. The line regularly transported passengers between New York City and Albany on a fleet of side-wheelers. The Day Line developed a reputation for its style and elegance, promoting steamboat travel as glamorous as well as convenient. In 1895, Van Santvoord named his son-in-law, Eben Erskine Olcott, General Manager. When Van Santvoord died in 1901, Eben Olcott became president of the company. He expanded and modernized many facets of the operation and the company thrived under his direction. The line attracted passengers with its grand ships, such as the Albany and the New York, which were appointed with luxurious furnishings and original artwork. The Day Line also fostered a relationship with the local railroad lines, linking the departure and arrival points of the two modes of transportation to facilitate travel.

Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1909, Alfred Olcott, Eben Olcott's son, became Treasurer of the Hudson River Day Line. He was promoted to General Manager in 1917. After his father's death in 1929, he succeeded him as president of the company. Olcott struggled to keep the Day Line afloat during the 1930s as the nation's economic woes impacted all sectors of activity. A brief resurgence in riverboat travel following the World War II pulled the line out of debt and seemed to point toward a prosperous future. The boom, however, was short-lived. As the era of steamboat travel was winding to a close, the Hudson River Day Line suffered heavy profit losses in 1946 and 1947 and Olcott was forced to discontinue it service at the end of 1948.

Alfred Olcott went on to serve as a director of the Hudson River Conservation Society, as president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of the Hudson River Valley and as a member of the executive committee of the State Chamber of Commerce. He died in Booth Bay, Maine in 1961.